Pai Gow is somewhat different to other poker games. One major difference is that you cannot change your starting hand. In effect, you always keep the initial hand the dealer has dealt you. Therefore unlike other poker game you have to place your ‘trust’ in this rule. In most games you’re accustomed to changing cards as a form of strategy or as a bluffing tactic. This is impossible in Pai Gow even though different card combinations do exist.
The dealer will begin by dividing the deck of cards into seven piles. These stacks of cards will be distributed when the dice are thrown. If the dice are thrown and your number comes up, the dealer will allocate you the first stack of cards. There is one set that will be set aside at this point. This is known as the ‘Dragon Hand’. In some casinos you can actually play the dragon hand like any other. The dragon hand permits you to have the edge over the bank. If you have two dragons then you are two steps ahead of the banker, the main advantage at his point is the choice of whether or not to stay in the game.
In Pai Gow poker, a hand comprised of 5 cards is stronger than the one made up of 2 cards, and you have two different bets available that allow you to win. Another feature that can vary from one casino to another is the banker. Just as in baccarat for example, the banker draws a commission of 5% of the player’s winnings. Consequently, each time you play as the dealer, you can have a significant influence on the game. When you play as the dealer, you benefit from the house edge i.e. you can win more hands and also more money than the other players. Note that the dealer changes each time, with each player assuming this role in turn during a game.
To play as the bank there are certain conditions that you have to be able to meet. In effect you should be playing first but probably the most unusual condition is that you must have enough money to cover all the bets placed at the table. In other words you must be able to pay out to a winning player from your own pocket. In some cases the casino will employ a ‘secondary’ banker and if you are the secondary banker then the casino will pay out all the winnings, which helps you avoid losing all your hard earned cash.
As far as strategy goes in Pai Gow, according to statistics you are likely to win around 46% of the time, regardless of the circumstances. In this game you battle against the banker with the other players coming in after. To really excel at this game you have to concentrate on your own hand and this is by far the best strategy. Don’t make the mistake of betting huge amounts if you feel that your hand is not sufficiently strong. Be attentive in observing your cards as this is the only way to win.
A few minor things to note
- The ‘invisible’ or strong hand, the one made up of 5 cards, should always be stronger than the ‘visible’ or weak hand. If the opposite occurs you lose all the money you bet.
- The hand you are allocated is dependent on the roll of a dice. You can never exchange hands in Pai Gow poker.
- Victory depends strictly on the value of the hands you have.
The first thing to do once you receive your hands is to construct your 5 card hand. This hand is the most important and without this hand you cannot continue to play. If you have a pair but nothing better, then the 5 card hand is your only hope of salvation at this point.
Imagine that you have the following cards: A-K-K-10- 7- 8- 2. You have seven cards in your possession but the only combination of any value you have is a pair of Kings. This means you at least have the chance to win the strong hand but not the weak hand. By this example you can act in one of two ways. You fold because you know you can’t beat any of the other hands. In 42% of cases you will receive a pair so it’s up to you whether or not to make the decision to call because if the dealer is holding a pair of aces then you lose. It’s mostly better to play the pairs when you have them because you can go a significant amount of time without anything. Remember that Pai Gow is a poker game so it’s important to know what the best combinations are.